A former officer in the army of the Central African Republic (CAR) says rebel forces led by current president François Bozizé committed rapes and massacres in various towns on their match to the capture of the capital Bangui during 2003.
Up to five towns where he said the rebels committed atrocities are among those where International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors allege that war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation (MLC) soldiers committed rapes, murders, and looting.
Joseph Mokondoui, who served in the Presidential Guard of the CAR up to 2009, recounted the Bozizé rebels’ atrocities on the last day of his testimony on October 20, 2011, according to a transcript of the hearing released by the court.
The towns of Sidhu, Bambari, Bossangoa, Bozoum, Bossembélé, Boali, and Sibut were some of the areas where the witness said rebels committed atrocities after they dislodged the national army.
“We knew that all those regions were under their control, and all the people living in those towns were living in fear, including the administrative authorities,” said the witness.
“Do you know why the civilian administrative authorities at the time were living in fear and panic when Bozizé’s rebels occupied these various towns, Bossangoa, Bozoum and Bossempélé?” defense counsel Aime Kilolo-Musamba asked.
Mr. Mokondoui responded that this was because the rebels were harassing people and committing murders. “Some of them were severely punished, and the [administrative] officials there were afraid and did everything possible to get back to Bangui. Others fled into the bush.”
He said there were cases of “slaughter” by the rebels, who he said included freshly recruited “young boys” as well as Chadian nationals.
Mr. Mokondoui stated, “A lot of people died. Some people were beaten to death. Some people had to walk for miles but I can assure you that it was difficult to reach the capital because it was impossible to take the main road” as it was under the control of the rebels.
“Can you describe other cases of atrocity carried out by these rebel forces which you might have heard of in the various towns in the Central African Republic at the time we’re looking at?” asked Mr. Kilolo-Musamba.
The witness replied, “There were deaths. There were fatalities. Some people fled to escape from death. There were cases of people being beaten. There were cases of slaughter. Everybody knew about it. The Chadians also engaged in rape.”
He said fearful civilians fled to the forests or to the Oubangui riverbank. Some people fled to neighboring Chad. Mr. Mokondoui explained that the Bozizé rebels occupied Bossembélé because it was a big town and that they committed violence there: “Everywhere they went, the population suffered.”
He said the presidential guard and regular Central African army soldiers fled various towns as the Bozizé rebels advanced, which left the rebels as the only active fighters in the various towns they marched into on the way to Bangui.
Mr. Kilolo-Musamba remarked that whereas for a year the trial had heard of crimes that were committed in the towns the witness named, it had been unclear who the perpetrators were. According to him, Mr. Mokondoui provided “essential elements” about who the perpetrators were.
Mr. Bemba, whose trial started last November, denies the charges against him, arguing that any of the armed groups who were in the CAR could have committed the rapes, murders, and looting over which he is on trial.
Hearings in the trial are scheduled to resume on Thursday, October 27, 2011.